Sunday, November 09, 2008

A call for a new Reformation in the church: Headcoverings?

Let’s start with a pretty obscure question. In most evangelical churches, the notion of women covering their heads is not on the radar, not even really recognized as being an issue at all. I mean it is 2008 and we aren’t Amish, so why in the world would women in Christian churches cover their heads?

Well, because it is an explicit commandment. See 1 Corinthians 11:

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (1 Corinthians 11:1-15)

But unlike some commandments, this one gets virtually no attention outside of some smaller denominations that many people would see as being on the fringe (Mennonites, Plymouth Brethren, etc.)

Why is there such opposition to this? It is a clear commandment, it meshes with covenant headship and the order of creation, and it isn’t a huge sacrifice for women to wear a headcovering. Let’s look at some of the objections that may come up…

Maybe the argument is that if we set this as an expectation and godly women in the church model it, it will make people uncomfortable and maybe it will be a stumbling block to unbelievers coming to church. I mean what if people come to church and see women covering their heads demurely, who wants to go there? Plus the women already at the church aren't going to want to wear headcoverings! The last thing we should do is make people get out of their comfort zones, don't you know what that does to attendance numbers and the offering!?

But is that a) true and b) a legitimate concern? The most discomforting place an unbeliever should be is in a Bible preaching church, being confronted with their sinful nature and the exclusive hope of Christ. If the Gospel is being preached from the pulpit, women wearing a head covering should be the LAST thing that sinners are discomforted by!

Well, what about arguing that women covering their heads is a cultural issue of that time and no longer relevant in these modern times? Well liberal theologians have made those arguments about all manner of doctrinal issues that most conservative churches takes as settled matters: homosexuality, marriage, divorce, etc. It is amazing how quickly some rise to the defense of prohibitions on homosexuality or cohabitation when told they are merely cultural constructs of that time, but then assume that something like women covering their heads in church is merely a cultural sign of marriage, like a wedding ring.

Or the most compelling argument, that the headcovering was a sign that a woman was married and under the headship of her husband, a symbol which is fulfilled now with a wedding ring?But there is a huge difference between an extra-Biblical tradition like the exchanging and wearing of wedding bands and the covering of a woman's head. The context is not cultural, it is covenantal.

Even after the great battle in the past decades over the inerrancy of the Bible, a battle won in the Southern Baptist Convention and clearly abandoned in more liberal, “mainline” Protestant denominations. I would suspect, and I have tested this theory, that when shown 1 Corinthians 11, many Christians shrug their shoulders, agree that it is a command but then still feel free to ignore it.

What is the point of this? To keep women in their place? Not at all. Women quite simply should wear head coverings in church because it is a commandment and it has a real theological symbolism and purpose. The greater issue and the real reason for this post is that we don’t see women wearing head coverings in church, among other issues, for two reasons: 1) It is never brought up and 2) we have capitulated to the culture.

It is never brought up because we flat out ignore a lot of Scripture because it is easier to skip over the problematic verses. You can’t do that if you preach chapter by chapter, verse by verse through a book. Anyone can preach about David, or John 3:16 or any number of other, straightforward verses. It is harder to preach about God commanding the utter destruction of a pagan people or reading about Lot getting drunk and impregnating his daughters.

We have also capitulated to the culture, to some extent in most churches and almost completely in many others. Not just in the obvious ways like we see in “seeker-sensitive” churches that everyone is always railing against. We have already capitulated to fashion and feminism. We have capitulated to fashion in that women just don’t want to wear what is proper or modest, they want to adorn themselves with what is cute and fashionable. So what if it causes brothers to stumble, makes a mockery of worship and declares God’s Word to be irrelevant in our advanced and enlightened culture. We have capitulated to feminism in that women see Biblical submission as a slight against them. Even in good, conservative, Republican voting churches feminism has a subtle influence over the women of the church. But that is not where it ends, or even the real problem. Much of what we do in a given week is driven by the pressure of tradition. Is VBS really an effective evangelism tool? Probably not, but you better still do it because we have had VBS at this church for fifty years! It is a tradition and by golly we are doing VBS until we run out of cute themes to use!

The real issue is not headcoverings, it is rebelliousness and bowing to Protestant traditions, traditions that have much of the same hold on the Christian church as they do on Papist churches. We have gone so long shuffling along doing the same thing, the same way, it becomes almost impossible to imagine that we need to do something different, especially when it is radically different. We have established some things as tradition for so long that it becomes unthinkable to do things differently and some things despite their explicit commands are ignored for the sake of expediency and a surrender to the culture. As long as we keep doing this, clinging to tradition and ignoring commandment, the local, visible church is doomed to keep muddling along looking less and less like the Bride of Christ and more and more like just another social organization. I am a member of the Rotary Club but I don't expect to find Christ there, because the church and social organizations are not the same thing. Being salt and light, becoming all things to all people is not a white flag of unconditional surrender to the winds of whim and change. If we are going to claim to be a Bible believing people, we had better start checking everything we do against the Word, and if something is contrary to the Word we need to stop and is something is in the Word and we aren't doing it, we better start.


Les said...

Arthur, I feel the need to ask for your supporting exegesis for head coverings being mandated today. Simply quoting the passage does not make the case. Now I may actually LIKE to see women wear a hat of some other cover. But is this passage normative for all time, literally? said...

The passage is normative for all time. Women covered their heads when it was fashionable (up into the 1960's), but being untaught followed fashion instead of scripture. It is a symbol that is chaffed at unreasonably.

Bethany W. said...

I found this post through Those

My husband and I are new to the headcovering issue. We both came out of Southern Baptist life. But, as we get more and more Reformed, more serious about really learning what the Bible says - we could no longer deny the need for me to cover. I just posted on my blog today, I will be wearing my covering in public for the first time this coming Lord's Day.

I really like the questions you put in this post! Thank you for your voicing your thoughts on this rather controversial issue!


Arthur Sido said...

Les, very fair question.

First, I would say that in the face of a clear commandment, the exegetical burden would fall to anyone espousing the negative. In other words, on what basis do we claim that headcoverings are NOT normative? We don’t have to defend the exegetical process of following the commandment to baptize, even among those who differ on the recipient of baptism we all agree on the command. No one assumes that baptism is a cultural relic of the time that is not normative for today. The context that Paul is writing in has to do with the male headship in the church and gender relationships, built upon the creation order. In fact I would question the exegesis that would suggest that headcoverings are only for that time based on the context and the way Paul has written. I would hazard that it is more likely that the church has bowed to the prevailing winds of the culture and the rise of feminism rather than any serious, scholarly attempt to show headcovering is not normative. My approach is to assume that the command is still in effect unless shown to not be by subsequent Scripture.

Second, the language he uses is direct and sharp, that it is shameful for a women to pray with her head uncovered. Paul references the creation order and male headship, which should lay to rest the notion that it is a cultural concession for that time and culture. This is not Paul equivocating; rather he is making a bold and forceful statement. As a previous commenter mentioned, women typically covered their heads in church until recently. I would say that even the wearing of decorative hats in the early part of the twentieth century missed the point of a woman covering her head while in prayer.

I am pretty convinced that what Paul means is what Paul said. The essays I have read that sought to challenge the normative aspect of headcoverings have all been based on the “It is a cultural thang” argument, which as I mentioned doesn’t seem to hold much water and seem more a concession to modernity from men who generally would not be accused of that.

The issue I am hoping to raise goes way beyond an issue like headcovering into the broader question. We hear all these experts pontificating on every side of the issue talking about changing or reforming the church but really they are doing the same things we have always done, just with a new flavor or twist. Do this program, have services at this time instead of that time, recite the catechism, more liturgy, less liturgy. All of these things are tinkering around and none of them really get at the heart of the question: why do we do what we do and should we do what we do?

Thanks for the question, it got me thinking even further and I hope we can continue to have conversations about this and other issues. My next post is going to strike more than a few nerves, so sober and reflective conversation will be vital!

Bethany W. said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier. I left the links in answer to the question you asked about what to cover with and where to buy it.

Another thought -
It would look completely ridiculous (in my opinion) for a woman to wear tight pants at the same time she is wearing a head covering. I don't think women can be addressed with this issue of covering her head until she properly covers the rest of herself!


Les said...


What I was getting is wanting to see your exegetical rationale for the literal interpretation of the passage. Obviously scholars have come to other interpretations on the passage than your view.

And, if literal head coverings (hats or other covers) are normative for all time, then do you advocate foot washing?

"12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you."

And this could go on and on...

What about braided hair, gold jewelry and pearls?? Can a woman wear these?

"9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,"

Or, can a woman utter a word in church?

"As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."

I am not trying to be funny or difficult here. Genuinely asking how head covering advocates justify it exegetically and also how then you understand the verses I cited. It sounds like you are just saying, "The bible says it. So we should do it."

Well the bible says the things I cited as well.

Looking forward to your response.

Arthur Sido said...

Hi Les,

I didn't take your comments as being smarmy at all. I appreciate honest questions while keeping me honest as well!

I wonder about foot washing as well, in fact I half thought about doing this same post with foot washing as the theme instead of headcovering. That seems pretty clear in the Bible too, and some denominations do practice it. Certainly most conservative churches do not have women teaching classes of men in submission to "the women should keep silent in the churches.". But then we have women who wear all manner of adornment and no one says anything. If it is not normative, why not? I guess my argument starts from the presumption that if the Bible commands something, it would be normative unless shown to be otherwise. We seem to be picking and choosing. It says that elders should be the husband of one wife, so from that we have in many churches determined that divorced men cannot be elders and yet we read a similar dogmatic statement about the way we worship in church regarding headcovering and don't feel it to be normative. Why? If headcovering is not normative, if foot washing is not normative, why is a make only eldership normative? That really is the question, and what I hoped the conversation would center around: why we do what we do and why we don't do what we don't.

The real issue at hand here had little to do with headcovering initially and more to do with the nature of church. I am NOT condemning anyone who does not have their wife cover her head while praying, although I would aks if they have really examined the issue. It is NOT a salvation issue at all, no more so than baptism or eschatology. But it strikes me as odd that we are so dogmatic about women not serving as elders but we give little attention to issues like headcovering (or foot washing). Maybe we should wash feet or insist on silence or cover heads. Maybe not. But what we should not do is ignore the issues because they are unpopular, or seem weird, or are the minority view.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, I look forward to hearing more.

Debbie said...

Hey, Arthur,

I've actually been looking at this passage lately and have to admit that, more than anything, it leaves me totally confused. Some of the confusing aspects:

" is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair...." The passage assumes this. Wasn't that a cultural issue?

"That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." Huh?? I don't get the connection.

"For her hair is given to her for a covering." I wish I knew Greek and could read - and understand - this in the original language. The passage seems to say that a hair covering is not enough, then says that a women's hair is given to her for a covering. I'd like to know if the word translated "covering" is the same word/form in every case.

Not quite sure how nature itself teaches us that long hair on a man is a disgrace, but is the glory of a woman. That seems to be a cultural/conditioned thing, too. (I know from experience that there is nothing glorious about my hair when it is long! It's just a mess.)

Any other references that tie in to this to clarify some of these things that are confusing me? I'd love to read them!


Arthur Sido said...

Hi Debbie,

You are right, some of this passage is very confusing. I am still working through it, which is why I am excited to get people posting, asking question, throwing ideas out. No everyone has taken the topic in the same spirit of having a discussion, which is too bad, but I appreciate as always your questions. Let me work on some responses to what you asked, and I would welcome anyone else's input as well.

Bethany W. said...

To Debbie-
When the angels are in God's presence they have to use their wings to cover themselves with. I think that is at least part of what is meant by "on account of the angels."

Bethany W. said...

I think that if your wife can sew a straight line then she can make her own. I have found that a square is easier to make than a triangle. For myself, I use about a 25x25 piece. For the girls, I used about 20x20. I put it in more detail where you left the comment on my blog.

Bethany W. said...

Also to Debbie,

If you think that men ought to take their hat off when then go to church and/or pray, then you are (maybe without your knowledge) conceding that:

1- The covering in the first verses of I Cor 1:16 refers to more than hair, and
2- It is not cultural, but for all time.

I wrote about these things on my blog, if you want to read what I think.

Arthur Sido said...

Hey Debbie,

You are right that there are some unclear aspects to this passage. All the more reason to work through it! I think Bethany's comment on the angels makes a lot of sense. As far the cultural aspect, as I said in the original post that same argument can be applied to any number of Biblical doctrines. I assume that where the Bible makes a direct command, the burden is not on the Word to explain it but on us if we choose not to follow it.

The point of verse six is written a little oddly, but my understanding is not that it is adequate covering for a woman to have long hair, but rather that if a woman is in prayer without her head covered it is as shameful as if she were to cut her hair off.

The big thing is that this is not an issue I would divide or break fellowship over, and it certainly is not a salvation issue! In fact I never gave it much attention, it was Eva who really started bringing it up and when I started looking at it I wondered why we had abandoned the practice (which I understand was the common practice of the church until recent decades)

Debbie said...

To Bethany,

About men taking their hats off to pray - to me that is completely cultural. I learned that it's bad manners for them not to. I also expect men to take their hats off when they eat, so I don't know that it relates to this passage at all.

About the angels - interesting connection. Makes sense. I'll need to look into it more. Are there any other references to that effect?


Debbie said...


I agree, it's something to look into, and I'm not trying to be argumentative. I agree, too, that when the Bible says to do something we are to do it. I tend to take things pretty literally, too. At the same time, there is much in the Bible that was written to specific people, situations and issues, and sometimes we have to apply the principle behind the words.

For example, Jesus said that if someone forces us to go (carry their pack) one mile, we should go two. Has this situation ever come up in your life? Is it ever likely to? It hasn't popped up in my life. I don't have opportunity to do this. I sure have the opportunity to apply the principle, though, of cheerfully, willingly, doing not only what is demanded, but going beyond.

Someone above mentioned foot washing. What was the setting when Jesus washed the disciples' feet? They gather for a dinner in a culture where there is usually a servant there to wash visitors' feet, because they live in a dry, dusty country, wear sandals, walk a lot, and eat sitting on the floor. There's no servant to wash their feet, and none of the disciples will humble themselves to wash the others' feet. Jesus does this, then tells the disciples to do what He did. Did He mean to wash their feet, or to have a servant's attitude and humility? No one comes to my house to eat and expects me to have someone there to wash their feet. It's not my culture. However, I have daily opportunities to apply the principle of serving others and putting others' needs first.

Make sense? In doing what the Bible says, I think the principles are the primary focus. The specifics can also be important, but focusing on them to the exclusion of the principle can lead to Phariseeism. (Is that a word?)

Still needing to read more,

Little side note.... I currently have regular contact with only one woman who practices head covering. When someone asked her once why she does this, her response was that I Cor. 11 says that only a husband should see his wife's hair, that no other men should. So my first exposure to the whole issue was a little different. Hence my wanting to understand the whole thing....

Debbie said...

To Bethany,

Still thinking about men and hats.... I'm not sure how much is cultural and how much is Biblical. Men take their hats off for the national anthem, for job interviews, in the presence of a president or similar leader, and so on. How much of that is cultural and how much is a carryover from the command in I Cor. isn't clear to me.

I also need to look into the clothing of the Jewish people and New Testament Christians. How did they use prayer shawls?

As I said earlier, I need to do more reading....


Arthur Sido said...

Hey Debbie,

I know you are not being argumentative. I have heard you be argumentative before!

This isn't an issue that rises to the level of fellowship breaking or anything like that. I see it as more of a personal conviction based on the Word. I haven't seen anyone who advocates headcovering implying that anyone is a bad Christian or a bad wife if they don't cover their hair. What I have found (not from you or Les) is that some people have a visceral reaction to the suggestion that women should read and prayerfully consider Paul's description of women covering their heads. I am trying to look more into the issue, because I think that where we see the cultural implication is less on the practice of women covering their hair and more on women in the last century NOT covering their heads.

One quick note on audience. While Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, look at the opening lines of 1 Corinthians:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:1-3)

It sounds like this message is a universal one, so I take the position that the commands Paul gives are for all time and for all Christians. It is shaky ground to start carving parts of Scripture out because they only apply to certain people at certain times. Footwashing is probably not needed today, because our feet don't get that dusty because we wear closed shoes but servanthood is still required. The principle behind headcovering is one of headship, so how is this demonstrated? Pagans wear wedding rings, but covering the head is not a common practice.

Just rambling now, it is 5 AM and I am in a hospital in downtown Detroit so I am barely coherent.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to comment quickly on, because of the angels.

Do you know we will be judging the angels? `~~~~ 1Co 6:3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?~~~~ Perhaps good and bad, I don't know for sure, but it could be that we are being watched by them, our testimony so to speak. Kind of like how ~~~Pro 20:11 Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right. ~~~

I could be completely wrong, but it's a thought I wanted to throw out there.

Kendall said...

Exposition Of I Corinthians 11:1-16
The first sixteen verses of the eleventh chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth has been the subject of much controversy. The verses themselves are not difficult to understand, and the controversy has not been so much over the meaning as it has been over their application. On the one hand it is taught that the passage has to do with customs of a people long since dead, and thus the passage is not binding today. On the other hand it is taught that the verses deal not simply with custom of days gone by, but rather constitute a command to be observed throughout the Christian era. As we study the passage let us keep some things clearly in mind:

This is a discussion concerning men and women as they pray and prophesy. The discussion does not concern men and women in their everyday activities of life nor how they ordinarily appear in public, but only how they appear as they pray or prophesy. It may be true, as some contend, that women of Paul’s day wen appearing in public always wore a veil, but this is not the subject the apostle discusses in these verses! His discussion concerns praying and prophesying. Hence, any reference to what men and women did or did not do in their ordinary activities of life is completely beside the point and a reference to such is not pertinent to the issue. This passage discusses worship-life, not every-day life.
Furthermore to say that women who appeared in public with their faces unveiled were branded as harlots and thus brought reproach upon the church is to make an assertion that is lacking in conclusive proof. Note this comment in Smith’s Bible Dictionary: "Veil. With regard to the use of the veil, it is important to observe that it was by no means so general in ancient times as in modern times. Much of the scrupulousness in respect to the use of the veil dates from the promulgation of the Koran" (Article on the Veil). Thus this eminent authority shows that the wearing of the veil was not nearly so prevalent as some seem to think.
All we know about the subject of covered and uncovered heads while praying and prophesying is found in these sixteen verses. It may be that other passages deal with the headship of Christ, the relationship of man and woman, the wearing of veils, and numerous other things, but no other passage in the Bible deals with the subject of covered and uncovered heads while praying and prophesying except I Corinthians 11:1-16. Hence to this passage we must go to find the truth on the subject.

With this brief introduction in mind, please read in your Bible I Corinthians 11:1-16 and then read the following comments:

"Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ."
In all probability this verse belongs as the last verse to the argument in chapter 10 and the American Standard Version so places it.
"Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I have delivered them to you."
The ordinances here spoken of are "the particular injunctions of Paul’s instructions" (Thayer), hence the will of God as expressed through the inspired apostle. Obviously those who keep such should be "praised."
"But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."
The relationships described are as unchangeable as God Himself and as old as the race. They are not based on "custom" nor upon anything else except the Word of God Almighty. Christ is not man’s head because custom made it so, but because God made it so. Man is not woman’s head because custom so ordered, but because God so ordered. This is the divine order and has nothing to do with custom. Custom did not make these relationships, and custom cannot change them with God. Yet it is upon the high doctrine here asserted that the rest of the argument is based. This is the very foundation of the apostle’s argument and without it the rest is meaningless. Since then the very foundation transcends custom, would it not be passing strange if all the rest is completely custom?
"Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head."
This verse grows out of and is based upon the relationship laid down in verse 3, viz. "Christ is head of man". But verse three is not founded on custom and therefore neither is this verse. Just as long as Christ remains the head of man, just that long man will dishonor Christ by praying with his head covered. Since man has no head between him and Christ, for a man to cover his physical head while praying or prophesying would be to dishonor his spiritual head, Christ. The covering under consideration is an artificial one such as a veil, a hat, etc., otherwise only bald headed men or men with shaven heads could pray acceptably! Man may not cover his head either with long hair, a hat or a veil when he prays to God. He may have it covered at other times but not when he prays or prophesies for if he does he "dishonors his head." Whatever covering this verse forbids a man wearing, verse five commands a woman to wear; and since this covering is an artificial one then the one a woman is to wear is likewise an artificial one. Whatever covering a man must leave off, a woman must put on.
"But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven."
He who denies this denies the Bible! But this verse also grows out of and is based upon verse three, and since the relationship described there is not simply custom neither is the statement made here. And as long as man remains "head of woman" just that long will woman dishonor man when she prays with her head uncovered! And not only so but in dishonoring her "head" (man), woman dishonors herself and God who made man the head of woman. Thus the woman who "prays or prophesies with her head uncovered" dishonors herself, man, and God as well.

The covering here spoken of cannot have reference to a woman’s hair for the apostle says that for a woman to be uncovered is "as if she were shaven" which shows plainly that she is not shaven (though her condition has the same effect). But since the woman is not shaven, she must have hair, yet the apostle says she is uncovered. So the woman herein described is one that is without covering but with hair, hence the hair cannot be the covering under consideration. Thus the covering is an artificial one such as a shawl, a veil, a hat, etc. Sometimes, however, the question is asked, "What size covering?" God no more designates the size than He does the color and I wonder sometimes if such questions are asked to learn the will of God or to set aside the teaching here given. As a matter of fact God doesn’t even tell what the covering is to be other than the obvious fact that it is to be an artificial one, such as already suggested. So then let none be guilty of accusing others of teaching that a woman must wear a hat. I know of no one who so teaches. We do teach that a woman must have her head covered and that a hat will do the job, but the covering does not have to be a hat. A shawl will do, or a kerchief. Any of these can make a covering.

Thus this verse shows plainly that a woman today when praying to God must cover her head with an artificial covering such as a veil, a shawl or a hat, etc. For her to refuse to do so is to bring dishonor upon her head, man, because a covered head on her part is a sign of her subjection to man (vs. 10). A refusal to have this covering is to show she is not in subjection to man nor God …hence the dishonor not only to man but God as well.

"For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered."
In other words, if a woman will not cover her head with an artificial covering, let her carry her defiance to its ultimate conclusion, let her save her head. But since a shaven head is a shame to a woman, she should do neither, but rather she should cover her head. The covering here spoken of cannot be the woman’s hair for this reason: The woman under consideration in this verse is "not covered" or without covering. Now if the covering and the hair are one and the same, we may substitute the word hair for the word covering in this verse and the meaning will be unchanged. Notice: "If the woman is without covering, let her also be shorn." "If the woman is without hair, let her also be shorn." See the absurdity in the last statement? How can a woman who is "without hair" "also be shorn? How can a woman without any hari, get her hair cut off? The word also in this verse shows plainly once and for all that the covering is not the woman’s hair but must be an artificial one as already described.

The word shear means "cut off" (Weymouth), "cut short" (Thayer), or "crop" (Expositor’s Greek Testament).

"For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man."
Please observe the God-given reason for a man not to cover his head, viz. he is the "image and glory of God". Paul does not say nor even hint that a man ought not to cover his head because os some custom of the day. Notice this contrast between what man says and what God says is the reason "a man ought not to cover his head". Man says: "Forasmuch as it is a custom". God says: "Forasmuch as man is the image and glory of God"

See the difference in the two statements? Now which will you accept, man’s statement or God’s? Since Paul did not base his statement on "custom" why should men today do what Paul did not and say what Paul said not? Was man’s being in the "image and glory of God" simply a custom? Is not man still, today, in the "image and glory of God"? If he is, he ought not to "cover" his head when praying or prophesying or worshiping God. So says the inspired apostle.

"For the man is not of the woman: but the woman is of the man."
In the creation God made woman from man’s rib, not vice versa.
"Neither was the man created for the woman but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels…"
For what cause? Does the apostle say, "Because of custom?" He does not! He says because of the situation that obtained when God created man and woman that a woman ought to have "power on her head" or "a sign of authority" (American Standard Version). Again notice the contrast between what man says and what God says about why women ought to have a "sign of authority" on her head: Man says: "Because of custom." God says: "Because woman was created for man."

See the difference between the two statements? One of them is based upon a figment of man’s imagination; the other is based upon a plain and positive statement in the word of God. Which will you accept? Which will you practice?

The expression "power on her head" is translated as "sign of authority" in the American Standard Version. Goodspeed renders it, "That is why she ought to wear upon her head something to symbolize her subjection." Women who understand the Bible also understand why they cover their heads. Not simply because a hat, or shawl, or whatever is used as a covering is pretty nor to impress somebody, but as a "sign" of her God-given subjection to man.

"Because of the angels": While one may not know everything connected with this particular statement, it is given nonetheless as an inducement for woman to cover her head when "praying or prophesying". It may be, as some suggest, that angels who "minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Hebrews 1:14) are interested in the affairs of this life and are offended at any breach of the ordinance. Another explanation, and one that seems plausible is this: The apostle has been urging man to respect his proper place. And in connection with people keeping their proper places, notice Jude 6, "And the angels which kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, He hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." When the angels left their proper place the got into trouble, and when man or woman leaves his or her proper place, they too, will get into trouble. A "sign" that woman has left her proper place is for her to pray uncovered, for by so doing she shows she is not in subjection to man. If this is not what "because of the angels" means this explanation certainly does no violence to the context.

"Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man by the woman; but all things are of God."
Neither man or woman should think of themselves too highly nor become egotistical. God deems one just as important as the other and they are mutually dependent upon each other for existence and sustenance. There is "neither male nor female" in Christ (Galatians. 3:28). God took a rib from the side of man to make woman (Genesis 2:21,22), hence woman is "of man"; but now in the natural order of things man is "born of woman" (Job 14:1), hence he is "by the woman". Thus both are mutually dependent on the other and indeed "all things are of God".

"Judge ye: is it comely that a woman pray to God uncovered?"
This is a rhetorical question: to ask it is to answer it. It is not comely (or befitting) for a woman to pray uncovered; this is the obvious answer to the question. Yet there are brethren who teach that it is comely for a woman to pray uncovered, and there are women who practice such, but they are not comely in God’s sight!
"Doth not even nature itself teach you, that if a man have long hair it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given her for a covering."
Nature is the native sense of propriety (Thayer) or of what is right. Paul does not say that the woman’s hair is her only covering, but that it is a covering. The fact that her hair is a covering should serve to show her that she should be covered. Thus when he teaches what is contained in these verses, woman should not be startled by them because her hair has already shown her the propriety of a covering in her case. A consideration of verses 4-6 clearly shows that two coverings are under consideration in them.

(Just as an incidental matter, I am sure that the pictures one so often sees of Christ is patently wrong because they all show Him with long hair. But the apostle says that long hair is a shame to a man. Would Christ "shame" Himself?).

"But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God."
The Revised Standard Version renders this passage: "If any one is disposed to be contentious we recognize no other practice, neither the churches of God." This should make it clear what is meant by the expression "contentious", is to contend for other than what is being taught herein. In other words, if, in view of all that the apostle has said, there are still some who would "contend" for the right of men to pray with covered heads or women with uncovered heads, let him know that he who so "contends" is alone in so doing. No apostle or church of God so taught. Since none of the apostles or churches of God taught that it would be permissible for women to pray with uncovered heads and men with covered heads, why in the name of reason will men teach it today?


Objections are often made against any Bible teaching and this one is no exception. We here notice a few of the ones we have heard:


A hat does not mean to women today what a veil meant to women when Paul wrote these lines.
We have already pointed out that nobody teaches that a woman must wear a hat but that something else will do as well as a hat. In the second place, the statement is true that it does not have the meaning today as it once did, but the reason is that preachers have failed to teach what the covering should mean! The fault does not lie in changing times but in the failure of preachers to faithfully teach God’s Word on the subject. By this same argument we could set aside the teaching of the Bible on the subject of marriage. Marriage does not mean today what it meant in Jesus’ day. Shall we, therefore, set aside His teaching simply because people ignore what the Bible says? Of course not. Neither should we set aside what I Corinthians 11:1-16 teaches just because preachers will not teach the truth on it. This objection then comes to naught.


I Corinthians 11:1-16 pertains to the customs of Paul’s day and are not bound on us today.
The comments on verses 4,7,9, and 16 show this to be an invalid objection. Please read those comments.


I Corinthians 11:15 says that "woman’s hair is given her for a covering", hence the only covering spoken of is the woman’s hair.
The comments on verses 5 and 6 show that two coverings are in the apostle’s mind, the hair being one covering and an artificial covering such as a shawl, a veil, a hat, etc., making two. Please read the comments on these verses.

Paul said "If any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom" and by that he meant that if anybody tries to cause trouble about this question we don’t have any such practice as woman praying with her head covered and a man with his head uncovered. It all just a custom anyway.
This construction on what the apostle said in verse 16 is to to make him stultify himself with a vengeance! After showing that a woman should cover her head when she prays and that a man should not, and taking up or rather wasting fourteen verses to do it, the apostle now takes it all back simply because he is afraid somebody might argue about it! Believe it, who can? The Revised Standard Version evidently gives the true explanation of the text. See the comments on verse sixteen.
If you are going to insist on "covering the head of woman" then the woman will have to cover her face for that is a part of her head.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:17, "When thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face…" recognizing a difference between the two.
The word "prophesy" in verses 4 and 5 means to speak by inspiration, and since no man or woman today speaks by inspiration the rules laid down in I Corinthians 11:1-16 has passed away too.
It is true that men today do not prophesy in the sense of speaking by inspiration, but I Corinthians 11:4 mentions "praying" as well as prophesying. The passage concerns prayer, too. Has prayer passed away? If it has not, then the rules laid down in 1 Corinthians 11 have not passed away. Not only so but while it is true that one does not speak by inspiration he speaks what inspiration revealed when he faithfully teaches the Scriptures. Hence I Corinthians 11 is still in effect.

These are some of the objections one usually hears concerning the teaching of the scripture in I Corinthians 11:1-16. These are not the only ones but the ones I have heard most frequently. None of them suffice to offset the teaching here given. Please study these things in your Bible and above all things, let us "keep the ordinances" that Paul therein "delivered" that we might "be praised" in the great day.
Additional Comments

Jim Sasser

The tract that you have just read, is one of if not the finest tract or teaching that I have been privileged to read upon this subject. I will say here and now that it is what I believe Paul is teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. I have requested and received permission to reproduce this tract from Hiram himself. I desire that you read it and meditate upon it in light of the Scriptures involved. If you have been holding a view contrary to the teaching herein, I trust that this will cause you to give up such view and accept the true teaching of the passage involved. I personally do not believe that there is anything in the New Testament scriptures concerning Christians that will give a man a contrary view to the one presented so well in this well-written tract. So, therefore, if a man has a contrary view, I am persuaded that he has received it from other sources than the New Testament.

I have had this passage under the deepest type of scrutiny in my 52 years of preaching, studying it with the help of sixty translations and twelve commentaries, but I have yet to see within the framework or context of the passage itself anything that would cause me to take any other stand or position on the passage than the one that I now hold and have held all of my preaching life. I have never heard a truly good argument against the position that Paul holds in these verses. I feel, as I believe Hiram feels, that I and he are espousing the same teaching that Paul has so able revealed and recorded for us with the help of the Holy Spirit.

I wish to make a comment of two here, not to change or detract from Hiram’s fine work but maybe to add some little thoughts that might be helpful. In verse 2, we have, "Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions even as I delivered them to you." These traditions were from God and inspired. They are in contrast with the inspired traditions of men. I feel that this is borne out in such scriptures as II Thessalonians 2:15. Remember that Jesus Himself rebuked the Pharisees for holding to their man-made traditions to the detriment of the Word of God, Matthew 15:6. In verse 4, we read, "Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head." Barry’s Greek-English Interlinear of the New Testament says, "Having anything on his head," referring to an artificial covering. In verse 5, we have, "But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven." The Amplified Version and the Philips’ Translation along with many others say, bareheaded."

Brethren, sisters and friends, there are many more things that could be brought to bare that would help to clinch the position that has been taken by both Hiram and myself, along with many, many others, but these will more than suffice to show the honest and sincere seeker of truth the true meaning of I Corinthians 11:1-16. If you will study this with an open mind, I truly believe that you will reach the right conclusion concerning the teaching of the passage. May God help us all to "study to show ourselves approved unto God, rightly dividing the Word of Truth." (II Timothy 2:15).